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When Your Babysitters Are Your Friends

Categories: child care

10 comments

Photo by Kristin LunaThis might be a stupid question, but I’m an amateur, so forgive me: How do you pay your babysitters when they aren’t (a) teenagers from down the street or (b) professionals hired through a service but (c) friends?

In the last few months we’ve had lots of friends offer to watch our baby as soon as we’re ready to leave him alone, and although I wouldn’t say we’re ready ready to take that step yet, we’re going to do it anyway, two weeks from now, in the name of free tickets to the theeatah–provided that the kid can drink from a bottle by then, that is. (*Fingers crossed*; we’re working on it.)

Never having left my wee one in someone’s care for several hours, though, I’m not sure about the modern protocol for such things. Hiring a teenager or a career babysitter for the night is easy enough because it’s a standard business transaction, but what about leaving the kid with friends who have not only generously offered their homes and spare evenings and fresh reserves of patience, but have even gone so far as to make it sound like we would be doing them the favor instead of the other way around?

Several years ago I used to babysit for a coworker, and it never felt odd that she paid me to watch her two young sons because, firstly, she felt like an elder, a member of a different generation at a time I still considered myself a kid, and, secondly, because the payment was a meager sum, more of an honorarium than a fee for services rendered. It was a good deal for her because she paid me in peanuts, and it was a good deal for me because the peanuts weren’t the impetus but just a nice bonus for an afternoon playing mommy. 

Now that I’m looking to “hire” my peers, though, it seems weird to make negotiating a price part of the arrangement. I definitely want to thank them appropriately, but I’m thinking more along the lines of a hostess gift, or trading favors, or even offering movie tickets as a way of making up for the night they spent wiping baby secretions from their sweaters instead of going out on the town themselves. (They also don’t yet realize that they’re getting the baby during the witching hour(s), at the time when he freaks out and melts down and needs to stock up on milk for the long night ahead by eating every hour and fussing in between. Surely that deserves reimbursement.)

So what do you do when you leave your kid(s) with your (childless*) friends?  Negotiate a cash payment? Offer to trade favors? Bring a small gift? Simply say “thank you” and leave it at that because, after all, they were the ones who offered in the first place? (Suckers!) 

Of course, there’s always the possibility that my baby still won’t drink from a bottle in two weeks, and instead of asking friends to take our kid for the evening we’ll be begging them to please take our theater tickets. Think we’d get any volunteers?

*I think the “childless” part is important because otherwise we could just trade babysitting, even steven.



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10 comments so far...

  • I would offer them money when I picked up the child. If they accepted, then great. If they refused, I would protest that I must do SOMETHING to thank them, and say that I am treating them to dinner with a gift card or something. Or a bottle of wine or whatever. People are less likely to turn down gifts than cash, but I would offer the cash anyway. Something along the lines of, “Thank you so much for taking care of little Sam. Please accept this as a token of our appreciation…” You could even put the money in a thank you card/note, which they are also more likely to accept.

    Robyn  |  March 4th, 2009 at 8:24 am

  • I have gladly babysat for several friends before I had children. If it wasn’t upsetting my schedule (i.e. after work, day off) I wanted/expected no money. BUT I had a friend who BEGGED me cancel (actually wanted me to quit) a very well paying job to watch her child and then was VERY angry when I needed some compensation. Needless to say, we are no longer friends. As for your friends, offer a favor and say thank you. It is a part of friendship and if they didn’t want to help they wouldn’t have offered or accepted.

    Eeek  |  March 4th, 2009 at 8:38 am

  • We just had a baby, but our friends have had kids for a couple of years now. I babysit for them free of charge. I just like doing something nice for them. I also felt like I was sort of storing up the favor for when we had kids, knowing they would do the same for us. It just felt really weird taking their money, since part of the point of babysitting for them was to save them the cost of a spendy sitter. I’m not sure this applies to friends-as-babysitters, but when I was little, my mom used to order take-out for our babysitters. Maybe you could do that for them if they don’t want to be paid? I also like the bottle of wine suggestion.

    Lauren  |  March 4th, 2009 at 10:57 am

  • As someone who would be overjoyed to spend an evening playing with your kid if I lived nearby, I think it would be really weird to be offered money or a gift card in exchange. It’s one thing if it’s a friend who is providing regular child care, but on the occasional evening out, during which time your kid is being cared for by a friend who loves him and wants to spend time with him, I think a simple, Hey thanks for watching our spawn for us! would suffice. Especially if it was offered rather than asked for, if that makes sense. Maybe a bottle of wine or something, and not every time, but if someone’s given you guys free babysitting five times I can see a little thank-you gift.

    MLE  |  March 4th, 2009 at 11:09 am

  • We’ve just always traded favors with friends, or had family watch the rugrats (when we haven’t used teenagers)

    I think that for childless friends I would buy a small gift certificate and put it in a card. People can sometimes feel funny about taking cash, but gift cards are always a hit :)

    Angella  |  March 4th, 2009 at 1:44 pm

  • I frequently have friends look after my son, and it is usually over dinner-time. So I provide a nice supper with desert and rent them a movie for when the kid is asleep…luckily he’s a good sleeper and down for the night at 7pm!

    Stephanie  |  March 5th, 2009 at 3:11 pm

  • My friend (child-free by choice) watched my son as a favor for a morning. She was actually very offended when I tried to pay her back by buying her lunch. So I guess it depends on your friendship, but in my case a simple “thank-you” was best.

    Danielle  |  March 6th, 2009 at 6:52 am

  • As a childless person whose close friends recently had a baby, I would think of it as a honor to be asked to watch their baby (especially to be chosen over the very grandkid obsessed grandparents–which will never happen). If they tried to offer me money I would never, never accept. I love them and their kid. If I were less close to them, maybe some cookies or wine as a nice little gift as other commenters suggested.
    Then again, I love babies. And holding the adorable baby and watching my fiance enjoying taking care of the baby– ahh, you want to PAY me to do that?? Crazy.

    Malllory  |  March 6th, 2009 at 8:11 am

  • Try http://www.mynightoff.com/ to set up a babysitting circle with your friends, so that you can all earn ‘credits’ to ’spend’ on further babysitting. You get to know each others kids really well, you have an instant pool of babysitters, you don’t ever have to put someone on the spot re. a particular date (you post the requested date and an email goes out to all in the circle, and the first person to accept the booking does the sitting job). AND you are not spending money. So a night out to the cinema doesn’t become a major financial undertaking. Great in these turbulent economic times! The average group should be around 10-12, to ensure you have enough of a pool but doesn’t dilute the relationships too much. Has worked very well for me. As the kids get older, it doesn’t have to be just night-time sitting - I am using my ‘credits’ for an afternoon wedding, and I will be happy in the knowledge that my kids will be with people they like and not a random sitter who has only been in their house when they’ve been asleep. .

    Jen  |  March 9th, 2009 at 2:21 pm

  • Depends on the kid and how long they’ll be watching them.

    If it’s just for an hour or so, a simple thank you is fine.

    If it’s for a longer duration but you know your kid will only be up for another hour or so, a thank you is still probably sufficient.

    If you have a baby who likes to put their lungs through a cardio workout quite frequently or if it’s going to be several hours, a little hostess gift would be nice (wine, movie tickets, gift certificate for dinner, etc.).

    Payment might be insulting unless it was a frequent, reoccuring event.

    amy  |  April 9th, 2009 at 8:10 pm

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